Success: Is it happenstance or deliberate?

When my co-founder and I decided that we would be joining the wonderful world of startups in Paris, the first thing I did was run out and buy eight books on how to do exactly that.  One of those books was Outliers by Malcom Gladwell, which questions the way people understand success:  Are we in control of our success or is it all just a gamble?


The introduction of Outliers tells a story of the Italian community of Roseto, one that immigrated to the United States and left everything they had behind for the promise of the New World.

By 1894, the newly established Roseto was at a population of 1200.  They began buying land, farming, and building up their New Italy.  Roseto was not really any different than any other nearby community, except for one thing — almost all Rosetans were heart disease free, a phenomenon unheard of at a time where heart attacks were the leading cause of death for men under the age of 65.

Stewart Wolf, a physician spending his summers in a nearby town, decided to study why this town was a fountain of youth.  He gathered a team and they began to dive deep into diet patterns, blood analysis, doctors’ records, family histories, and more.  They discovered that, for men over sixty-five, the death rate from heart disease in Roseto was roughly half that of the United States as a whole and that  the death rate from all causes was 30 to 35 percent lower than expected!

“a place that lay outside everyday experience, where normal rules did not apply.  Roseto was an outlier.”


After hiring even more professionals to study deeper into and harder the medical aspect of Roseto, Wolf began to realize that it had nothing to do with their food they ate or the genes in their blood.  He walked around and saw the nature in which Roseto lived. Roseto was a place where everyone knew each other, people felt safe in the arms of trusted community if they ever fell ill, and they enjoyed good company at every meal.  What was interesting about this was that: “no one was used to thinking about health in terms of community.”

Gladwell closes this intro by stating,

“I want to do for our understanding of success what Stewart Wolf did for our understanding of health.”

After just the beginning of the book, already my brain was actively thinking about the different ways I perceived success… Did this mean that famous outliers like Bill Gates are not successful?

Maybe you already knew, maybe you didn’t, but Bill Gates went to one of the only high schools to have access to a special type of computer: an ASR–33 Teletype.  This means he got to try his hand at real time programming starting in eighth grade, while most programmers don’t start until university.

When you start programming at the age of 13 or 14, I would say it’s a bit of a head start in life.  For Malcolm Gladwell, these are specific (and key) opportunities that present themselves in specific situations.

An opportunity is not a skill or a forward way of thinking, it is a happenstance which you sometimes have no control over.


Gladwell counts nine extraordinary opportunities that Bill Gates had as a child that led him to where he is today.  For example, he did not choose to be taken out of public school to attend an elite private school with a very special type of computer – his parents made that choice.

I am not trying to say that famous outliers are not talented,  it is just that when we reveal these often hidden parts of their story, we get a more complete picture of how they achieved their success.

Gladwell’s book offers some interesting answers to questions about success that might be as helpful for you as they were for me. After this stimulating read, it made me think about how I can use the idea of an outlier in the world of start-ups.  How does this apply to my success?  What I came up with were three strategies that anyone can apply:


So, how does translate for Sciago as a start-up?  Well for those of you who don’t know, Sciago will soon be an online platform of tools and services which help researchers in the Urban Sciences to find funds, connect, have round table talks, and find tailor-made jobs.

For Sciago, we believe that Paris is the right place and right time for our platform.  Paris is a global influence and leader in Urban Science issues such as climate change and pollution.  There is a support system for startups like us and we hope we succeed in accessing those resources, but at least we have eliminated some of the work by being in the right place at the right time.

We also will be making opportunities for ourselves by holding Sciago sponsored seminars and events, so that our community of researchers can network with other researchers and companies in the Urban Sciences, have scholarly exchanges, and expose each other to new possibilities and opportunities that may not have presented themselves by just being online.

Last but not least, We are and will continue to ask ourselves if our strategy is on the right path to success. And, since we are a collaborative project where researchers and Sciago have a cooperative or interdependent relationship, we will be supported by the feedback of the community that we serve creating a virtuous cycle.

Article by April Lipatan

Do you think that we are really in control of our success when it comes to start-ups or is it all a big gamble?
Let us know what you think in the comments below!


Nicholas J. Evans,”Indirect passage from Europe: Transmigration via the UK, 1836–1914“, in Journal for Maritime Research, Volume 3, Issue 1 (2001), pp. 70–84.

Gladwell, Malcolm, 1963-. (2008). Outliers : the story of success. New York :Little, Brown and Co.,

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